ANDREW D. DIMAROGONAS FIRST USED VIBRATION ANALYSIS in the 1960s while at General Electric Co. to detect flaws in turbines and rotors. Now, he is using it as an easy and cheap way of diagnosing osteoporosis.
The brittle-bone disease that affects more than 20 million Americans, mainly middle-aged and older women, has until now been checked primarily with X-rays. Dimarogonas uses ordinary sound waves in the audible range that rise in pitch. If the signal that bounces off the bone is damped, or softened, it indicates brittle bone. Since the device is easy to handle--the final version is expected to be the size of a fountain pen hooked up to a notebook computer--"we can measure almost every bone in the body," says Dimarogonas, who is now a mechanical-design professor at Washington University in St. Louis.
The patented technology has been licensed to Eko Medics Inc. of St. Louis, which is owned by a partnership between Washington University and venture-capital firm Alafi Capital Co., based in Berkeley, Calif. Clinical trials aiming at Food & Drug Administration approval should start within 18 months. Dimarogonas hopes the device will hit the market in three to five years, at a price of $10,000 to $20,000, in contrast to $100,000 to $300,000 for an X-ray machine.